Latina playwright adapts Chekhov play in “El Nogalar”

Tonya Saracho adapted Anton Chekhov's 1904 Russian play "The Cherry Orchard" in "El Nogalar" set along the United States border in Northern Mexico.
Tonya Saracho adapted Anton Chekhov's 1904 Russian play "The Cherry Orchard" in "El Nogalar" set along the United States border in Northern Mexico. Submitted by Tonya Saracho

Anton Chekov wrote “The Cherry Orchard” in 1904, telling the tale of a Russian matriarch who loses her land because she’s unwilling to change.

The dynamics of that family resonated with playwright Tonya Saracho. She left her native Sinaloa, Mexico as a child, has lived in the US since 1989 and today carries a green card.

She adapted Chekov’s work last year, setting it in a pecan orchard, as you would find along the Mexico – Texas border.

“El Nogalar” got its West Coast premiere over the weekend at Hollywood’s Fountain Theater.

When the work first premiered in Chicago last year, Saracho was called “the Chicana Chekhov.”

Saracho said she decided to take away some characters from Chekhov’s play in her version.

“I took away all the dudes, except for one. I took Yasha away. The man with the funny shoe that makes a sound, the student revolutionary, except for Lopahkin - the guy who buys the orchard,”she said.

“El Nogalar” follows a Mexican family’s experience as their way of life is threatened by drug cartels. The play is mostly in English, but has bits of Spanish and Spanglish sprinkled in. It’s a tragic comedy that examines the choice between adapting to change or being left behind.

Saracho said she can identify with some of her characters in “El Nogalar.” She has zig-zagged back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico most of her life. She said her characters represent various points of view of women living along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“The youngest daughter has lived 15 years in the United States from boarding school to boarding school, so she’s Americanized. She doesn’t speak Spanish that well anymore. She is an American for all intents and purposes – so, there’s that point of view," she said. "There’s a point of view of someone who wants to come to the United States. It’s like a mixture of cultures. A border life - it’s not quite the border, it’s like an hour away from the border - but a border life is porous and it navigates both worlds.”

“El Nogalar” plays in Hollywood through March 11.

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